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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  May 5, 2013 6:00pm-6:36pm EDT

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literary critics and more to talk politics, war, history, religion, and culture. watch these interviews every sunday at 6 p.m.. we start with ac grayling, a professor of philosophy at college of humanities in london is the author of 30 non-fiction books, most recent, "the good book," and "the god argument." >> host: you're watching booktv on c-span2, and booktv is in london interviewing some authors, and joining us now is professor ac grayling, author of 30 books, most recent called "the god argument,," and in that book, you write the burdens of religion are both social and political. what do you mean by that? >> guest: well, we need to look really across the landscape of history to see how devicive, how many conflicts, how many
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difficulties created by divisions among people of religious outlook. the burden there is not just a historical, but contemporary looking across, for example, the middle east and south asia. we see difficulties too, and in our societies, and so there is a great burden. one thing that i wanted to argue for in that book was a different way of thinking about the ethical, which is to say all those questions we ask ourselves how we relate to one another, what our speedometers -- responsibilities are so they don't cause divisions. >> host: professor, hasn't religion helped define what good and moral is? >> guest: people say this. the young religions of the world, jew deism, christianity, and islam, and i say "young" looking back 2,000 years perhaps, but they are young, changing the way people relate to the world and one another dramatically.
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if you look at the systems they embody, all the very best, the adorations to care for widows, orphans are common to all the great ethical outlooks including the secular, non-religious one, and in covers to have anything special to them, they disagree with agreements to the other ethical outlooks, and that's where is rises. >> host: back to "the god argument," like magic in atrolg, it dates from man kind's less educated and knowledgeable early history and has been superseded by advances in our understanding of the world and ourselves. >> guest: i think that's really obvious in a way from when one looks at what anism is, a term that applies to the prerevealed religions of the world in which we're probably the dominant outlook for tens of thousands of years before a
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historical period, and what you see there is app attempt by human beings to give some explanation, provide some concept frame work to think about the world. what they understood was agency. they understood their own capacity to pick up a stone to throw it or pull water or make a noise. they thought everything that happened in nature must have app agency behind it that the wind, the thunder, the rain must be caused by something. that is a kind of protoscience, an attempt to explain the explanatory frame work of ideas. if you look at how ideas about religion is changed over the my millennium, you notice where the sea gods and the rain gods were present in nature, bit by bit, moved away as we understood more. they went to the mountain tops, for example, and elsewhere and in the old testament, there's a
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burning bush on the mountain top and a pillar of smoke by night, sounds like an egyptian god, and now, of course, the gods are beyond space and time all together, marking the horizon of the advance of knowledge. >> host: haven't we been through cycles in history where science supersedes religion and other things? >> guest: well, i don't think science is ever going to supersede our ethical, literary, our humanistic interests, and it doesn't claim to do so. talk to someone working in the advanced areaings of science -- areas of science, they are concerned with a particular range of natural phenomena and the attempt to understand them. the things we value in our lives, our affections and connectedness, all the provisional questions which are great, great importance in organizing and running a society, they are not matters that an empirical scientist can
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do more than contribute to, give us help in understanding the facts, but we all have to be reflective and part of the great conversation of mankind where we come to some decisions and compromises about how we live together. >> host: professor gray ling, in the book, you argue for humanism. what is humanism? >> guest: an attitude rather than a doctrine that says if we are to think most fruitfully about our human relationships, our social and individual relationships, we got to start from our best -- our most generous and sympathetic understanding of nature and the human condition. the human condition is richly exploredded by literature, history, and philosophy. it's much more difficult to understand because it is so various and complex, and a lifetime's work to try to understand one's self and others given diversity from others one's selfs, but we have to start there in order to work with the grain of human nature,
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to try to be tolerant, give people the marching of possibility for themselves to find lives that feel good to them. one key thing here is there. for most of history, most people and, alas, still today, have been told there's one right way to live, one great truth, one answer to the question of what it all means. what the enlightment of the 18th century reminded us, actually, which is that there is a great diversity in human talent for good lies. there's a great diversity of human beings, not to put in mind what was said meditating on the golden rule which says do to others what they do to you. under which circumstances should you do to others under which they do to you? they may not like it. it's a dine -- deep point because we have to treat others in particularity. to do that, you need insight into human nature, the best we can get into the very, very
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complex matter, and that's why the demand is on us to be thoughtful, observe vaunt, and educated in the sense we are truly reflective about the great range of human possibilities, and that is the basis of the humanistic view in ethics because it starts from the human, at the human scale. looking for the things in human life that p tend to flourish. >> host: are humans innately moral? >> guest: thing they are. intinessicly social animals, we have to give and receive attention. the newspapers are full of atrocity, conflicts, and war, but because that's news. in every village of the world, every single day of the year, there's millions of acts of curtesy, kindness, common friendship, people just getting on. the fact that the busses run, electricity comes on in most advanced economies because people are doing what they said
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they would do. that's the majority's story. we are, i think, fundamentally well disposed towards one another, and if you wanted an illustration why one thinks that, walk down the street, and you saw somebody ahead of you unto whom a great pile of bricks is about to fall unbeknownst to her. what do you doe? say, this is interesting, no, you say, "look out" cry out to them, doesn't matter who they are, their religion, political views, just another human being, and your instinct would be to help them. >> host: back to the book "the god argument," freedom from coercive ideology is both a human right and a fundamental civil liberty. >> guest: no question of it. i think about the major religions of the world, and the major political ideologies of the stalinist and nazi kind. they share one thing in common. that is, they have a view that they know how things ought to be organized, and every's got to sign up for it. this is the one thing in common,
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this structure of ideology, which forces on to people a particular view and particular practice, and i think anybody would agree that your right to freedom, freedom of expression to self-determination, to privacy is the things you want to defend robustly against the totalitarian regime like the stall inist, but in so far as the regime shares with a major religious outlook like the church or the geneva, and you would see the exactly same thing applies. freedom from that coercion over thought and practice is over human right. we have to refocus our thinking on this. people can choose to below what they like, and, of course, religious movement and churches have every right to put their point of view, but no right to
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coerce people into sharing their point of view, and at least, much of history and too much the world today is under the government of coercion in that respect. >> host: booktv on c-span2, and we are in london talking with various authors while here. today joining us is professor anthony grayling, the god argument the most recent book. while we tape the interview, a new pope is being chosen. what are your thoughts about that? >> guest: a new relevance, a little of theater, has a comic aspect and a serious aspect, which is, of course, there's hundreds of millions of people who record themselves as being roman catholics, therefore, influenced by the policies that the new pope comes up with. priests going to be able to marry, change a view of contraception, will the moral teachings of the church become more liberal or more
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authoritarian? these are matters that impact people's lives. prince my, by the way, since the great majority of members of the catholic church use contraception, they are in odds with the official teachings of the church, and, unfortunately, obliged in the interest of bearing chirp and interest of their own lives to embrace hypocrisy which is what it comes down to, hard word, but, alas, it's true. people want to live with consistently and feel they live with some degree of integrity if their lives, but the -- the way these very ancient doctrines apply to missouri earnize does cause a great deal of extortion, and that's one example. >> host: with regard to humanism, you talk about different legislation that can happen such as drug legalization. why is that a humanistic approach? >> guest: well, the -- in
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direct route of a view about what kind of public policy might be based on the humanistic ethics must always take intoing the the -- take into account that what we try to do is work with the grain of human nature. people who want to take drugs who need to take drugs, and, personally, further, i should mention out of sheer timidity, i never, myself, taken because of what passes for my brain, is my instrument, like bashing your vie lip if you're a musician, so i don't do it, but it needs to be decriminalized. those who want to do it will do it anyway. what happens if you criminalize such activities is demonstrations eloquently by what happened in the united states in the 1920s as prohibition. you create a massive criminal industry. you criminalize ordinary people because they are doing something they feel they need to do causing more problems r more burden on the police, and courts
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than is necessary. what one wants to do is argue about people about it saying it's a silly way of doing things. the world and humanity are so extraordinary, so beautiful, so fascinating that you can be on a high 24 hours a day just by finding stuff out and reading and talking to other people. you don't need chemicals to do it. you could dissuade them from taking the chemical root all the better, but to criminalize them for doing it is like trying to stop the tide from coming in. >> host: sexual services. >> guest: well, there, too, i mean, i think, again, criminalization causes problems. it drives it underground, putting it into the hands of criminals, people, men and women, who go into sex work are less likely to be protected or helped out of that if they want to be helped out of it, but, also, again, it's a matter of individual liberty like the drugs thing, like taking alcohol, like smoking cigarettes, all these thingsing you might have one or another attitude towards them, but the
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idea we know better than you, we don't like it, you musten do it, that's my morality i chose, i'm going to force unto you. this is a source of great deal of trouble and suffering in the world, and what we have to do is step back, extend a hand of help to anybody who needs our help, to do it in a kind, hue main kind of way, but, also, recognize that people must be allowed their choices, must be allowed their freedoms. >> host: professor gray link, are you a libertarian then? >> guest: no, i distinguish between somebody who in the european sense of the word "liberal," and liberal is a term of maldiction in the united states because of the political connotations, but here with a small "l," a liberal believes we must be open in the way that john stewart mill in the wonderful essay on liberty argued, must be many experimentings in human life, find our own way with their talents for good and flushishing
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and happy lives, seek those lives. i think a lib carian, that's a stronger notion saying anything goes, says it's okay to trample on the heads of others if you make a profit from it. that attitude is wrong. we do need to get together and talk a bit how we're going to regulate things so we protect the weak, so that we can promote things that we feel are good, that there is a space in the public forum for debates about things like drug policy and prostitution and education, and i mean, all things that impact our live, but i don't think anything goes. it's a parallel, you know, to having an open mind. they say don't have such an open mind your brains fall out. same is, you know, be open, liberal in the attitudes, but not to the extent you give license to people to do anything they like. >> host: one of the policy debates currently in the states is on gun poll cy.
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how does that fit into your philosophy? >> guest: yes, i'm very well aware of the debate, and, of course, european look at open mouths and wonder there is such a discussion about this thing. of course, there's gun crimes in europe as well. we've seen horrible examples of that recently, but far fewer such incidents, and it does seem that at very, very least, automatic weapons, allowing people to have multiple armorments in the homes is a recipe for disaster, and the repeated tragedies of shootings in colleges in the united states, it really does astonish people outside that there should be such a faintization, really, of the constitutional right, although it's ambiguous, about malicious in times of danger or individuals having 15 automatic rifles in the home.
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it is impocket to us outside. i rather hope what the vice president is doing will have success. >> host: to take it to the drug legalization argument, wouldn't allowing assault weapons be like allowing heroin? i mean, is -- are they comparable? >> guest: no. if people were entitled to own and possess guns they only ever fired at themselves, that's parallel to the heroin case. >> host: professor grayling the guest, what's your [background sounds]? >> guest: orn of british parents out of the failing rem innocents empire of central africa where my father was working. it was formative in that we were living in a repoet part of central africa where there was no television and where the bbc radio service that we were able, occasionally, to get was crackly, and, of course, being
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english, we listen to the cricket matches on the radio, but for adults, the only resource was risky and adultery, but for children there, we were rather thrown around on the literary resources so reading was a major thing for us, and i -- i think that must have been rather influential because my tastes have always been in that direction, and early on, came across references to socrates, aristotle, and thinkers in an early age, and came across dialogues, in fact, at the age of 12, and this was because, by the way, a lot of, you know, brits would go out to the empire and promptly die of a tropical disease leaving the books they used at university to the local library, and there was a pile, and i took down the first volume and red one of the early dialogues, and it was about
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socrates talking to youth about restraint and self-government, and it sparked this sense that that, surely, is the way to live, to live, you know, with a passion for the philosophical debates, and good news is as you get interested in philosophy, it's a license to stick your nose into everything which i've done since. >> host: we call you "professor," where have you taught? >> guest: oxford university, london university, and just recently, the founder of a new college, the study of the humanities here in london where i continue to teach philosophy. >> host: talk about the college. >> guest: well, our education system in england, in particular, not in the united kingdom in general because scot land has a different system, but we are specialists very, very early, very quickly. after the age of 16, school children or high school children take fewer and fewer subjects
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and start up in universities studying a lot of subjects usually, and this is a mistake for our century where more and more people go to university, but they need a much broader horizon view. i wanted to marry the liberal arts tradition which flourishes in the united states with our own oxford tutorial tradition, which is the one to one very intensive, in-depth examination of the particular subject. you get the in-depth aspect, the breath aspect, and in order to marry them, you ask the students to do much more than they normally do in an undergraduate curriculum. undergraduates must party and lie in bed from time to time, but there's plenty of slack in the week for asking them to do more, and so our colleges are quite intensive asking the students to do a broad range of things alongside their indidn't scholarly study, and turns out,
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they love it. they see the collections and how they feed into one another. >> host: it's a private university; correct? >> guest: independent. all universities in the united king dome are private that they are not publicly own, but they get public subsidy, some like oxford and cambridge, 25% of the income is public money, so we're independent, and one of the very few here in the united kingdom, but this is a model in which is having to change because of the way how education is funded in the united kingdom, so another aspect of what the united states taught us of the united states is a good model is endowmented photos eel. hair voir dire -- where minds are big, you can come for free forever. >> host: professor grayling, in the 2011 book, the good book, what is that, and what was your discussion with the archbishop?
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>> guest: well, first, i should mention that in tradition to writing both economic textbooks and monographs in philosophy, i've written quite a lot for a general reader ship, not with telling people what to think, but to alert them to the fact there is a very rich resource to thinking about the nature of the good life, and by that, by the way, i don't mean a conventional life, but one which really feels good to live and full of flourishing and achievement of worthwhile goals people achieve for themselves, under government to make a case and defend against criticism, so the writing that i did in that respect was prompted by the fact that many years ago, more than 30 # years ago, when i was thinking about different ethical systems, a graduate student at oxford, i thought to myself, once i read my way through the
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religion, i thought, if only somebody or some group of people, instead of going to them, weaving them together, making the old and new testaments, went to the nonreligious literature of the world, poets, historians, essays, and writers and aristotle, others, gone to them, take texts from them, woven them together, they would find they have a book comparable to this, full of rich insight, inspiration, commentary on the human condition, which would have been an even better resource because there would have been less devicive and less military in the sense of telling people what to do, but giving people the materials to think for themselves. obviously, the minute i thought that, i thought, perhaps, i should try to do it. about 30 #-odd years ago, i started to collect the materials, and i did to them exactly what the bible makers
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did, redacted them, chose, you know, sections of them, i stitched them together in different ways, and came up with an overall text, which i divided into books so there's a book of genesis beginning with the apple falling in newton's garden, and which goes through consolations and parables and songs and parallelling the bible of religion. there's not one mention of religion or mention of god, religion, or faith, but entirely secular, but to illustrate the fact had this been done, we would have had a resource of a different kind because there's a huge amount of comfort and wisdom in the literatures of the word, and i drew from chinese and indian and from all the resources and in some cases, i had the imreat pleasure of rewriting and translating, and,
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you know, i didn't give any references, don't know where the texts come from because we don't know where the original texts of religion come from, and so i'm rather trying to construct something that could stand alongside or on the same shelf to show it can be done and show from the human heart there's a huge amount we can profit from. >> host: you had a discussion on your good book and bible with the archbishop. >> guest: yes, indeed. years before, he invited me tore have a discussion, a double-header with him before an audience, about a book written on ethics which is an interesting mind, and he, of course, was very committed christian, and in his writings, in particular, note some underground and punishment, and tried to explore the idea of the good and evil. there is a fine scholar, discussed the ideas, and wanted
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a secular or nonreligious response to them, so he owed me, and when the book came out, i asked him to debate it with me. we had a very, very civil debate. there was only right at the end of a long discussion about ethics we agreed with everything, that the word god appeared as a joke in the end, but shows you people of good will and good intention share good will, and divisions come in only when people find there are these commitments of faith that separate us. >> so has the church of england been good for the u.k.? >> guest: well, here's a great philosophical answer for you, yes and no. obviously, there's aspects of any kind of organized outlook on life, which, for example, promotes charities or educational endeavors, must have a good aspect to it, yes, but i
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think the fact that religion in far too many societies for far too much of history is deeply negative. just recently, for example, i was busy reviewing a book in which the argument was put that what 19th century american critics of religion said, namely, that if we were still religious as we were in the past, we'd believe the earth is flat and his response was to say it's not true because aristotle and others knew that the planet is a sphere, but i had to respond to him by saying, look, in 1615, cardinal who went op to become a pope, wrote a letter to a monk who tried to find a defense of the view of the universe the church would live with, and it was written saying you got to realize that this endeavor must fail because it is written in the scriptures that god has laid the foundations the earth so that the earth will
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never be moved, that the earth doesn't go around the sun. it's a matter of doctrine. this is app example that looks like a historical example, of course, with debates in the creation that is more intelligent design in the united states today, people failed to recognize, perhaps that is line up is a committed creationist, religion, and opposes that likewise. now, evolution of biology is at the foundation of the most significant developments, and biochemistry and medical research, stem cell research, for example, and in the improvements in the quality of life for people, and so them you have policies like the one that george w. bush rap, there had been no no lines of stem cells for research, limited to the ones that already existed. this is doctrine, religious doctrine getting in the way of advancements to benefit
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humanity, and it's that thing, all the hurnlgs, church of england is a church, but religion in regime can stand in the way of serious progress. >> host: how has religion changed in the u.k. in the last hundred years? >> guest: well, you know, if you were able to resurrect a medieval among and put him down in a church service in one of the today's church of england churches, he wouldn't recognize the christianity needs there. you were mentioning that you had been to mew nick, one of the greatest collections of murals, you would have seep that the visual literature of the medieval mind where most people were illiterate was powerfully coercive and violent. i mean, these seans of punishment in hell of the sufferings of christ, of the picture of the universe given to people in medieval times is very, very different from the average church service now where we all shake hands and kiss of
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peace is passed round, mention of hell is not often heard unless you're in a protestant church in the southern states of the united states, and so the picture changed dramatically because the religions of wonderful illustrations of darwin and evolution, they evolve all the time in response so criticism and hostility from the surrounding society. they adapt. one of the few churches that has not adapted enough is the roman catholic church, of course, which sticks to the traditional views, doesn't go over women, its views on termination of pregnancy is always what it was, and their opposition so stem cell research, for example, and in a number of ways, they are obstructive of process, and it is said about will not bend will break. >> host: professor, are most people in england today atheists
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>> guest: i would report the vast majority of people, secularists in the sense they don't want to be run by bishops or modests. i should think that most people identify culturally, if they are asked, what are you culturally, a christian tradition rather than a muslim or jewish tradition, but i think that even among the offices of the church of england, it's a great deal of atheism. >> host: among the offices? >> guest: oh, yes, yes. >> host: why do you say that? >> guest: well, it's hard -- i mean, i know for a fact dog collar wearers who don't subscribe to the beliefs, regard them as symbolic or some kind of a poetic or as thetic value to them, but they don't believe they are literally true. it's hard to imagine anybody who uses a laptop, flies into an
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airplane can actually believe in the physical resurrection of christ or virgin birth. >> host: why? >> guest: so profoundly inconsistent with everything else we know about how the world works, and so they tend to record them as being symbolic. i mean, for example, the number of theologians in the church of england now argue the significance of the doctrine of the resurrection is being reborn to one self, a resurrection to the individual, a metaphor to it. in christianity, in general, the key dock train is the resurrection, and if it didn't happen, there's no story there. it's a difficult one. when you look at the theologian, they tend to bury doubts and anxieties about the truth of these things, in amongst lots of very long words. >> host: so given what you just said about some officials in the church of england, does that mean there is a lack of
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faith in a higher power? >> guest: well, you do get what could, without too much unfairness because the feng shui tendency, the idea there is some kind of something in the universe, which is very probably on good union grounds, explicable because when we were children african-american the worlder was a kinder place, and everybody says things were better in the past. they were individually because we didn't pay taxes at had 4 or 5, the world was better. it was full of higher powerrings who solve problems, rescue us, keep us safe. that residual desire for something is a very powerful psychological impasse. this is where i think the idea of being an adult, being a grownup intellectually of taking responsibility and of living with doubt and uncertainty, which, of course, is the great
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mind set of science and powerfully productive, not knowing the answers always, always thinking to be looking for them, not living by dogma, but by accepting and embracing the uncertainty that drives us forward, and which accepts that every time you come up with a good count of something or discovery, that opens more doors to more doubts. >> host: "the god argument," faith can be beautiful, but women and children in subordinated households in the bible belted u.s., may not see it as so. >> guest: as a graduate student in oxford, i was friendly with a man who unbeknownst to me had a wife and twin daughters in a flat in the married graduate housing complex at the university, and it was only some months into my acquaintance with him that i called round to his flat one day, his apartment, to give him
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something that he'd left behind at a meeting, and the door was opened by a woman, and turned out that she was his wife, and there were these children clinging to her skirt, and she was not -- i discovered, allowed out of the flat unless she was in his company, and this was very rarely. i was shocked by it. you know, making inquirelies, thinking about it, discovered that the parallels between women in saudi arabia, which, of course, much, much more extreme example of how women can be cultured away and denied access to the public's sphere and only allowedded to enter it if they are in company of a male relative, and that for extreme saudi arabia, but some extent, this sometimes happens among people, zealous commitment in the bible belt which is worth mentions because it's a civil